Facebook has massive potential to become a dominant player in online video. But the company must overcome a couple of big challenges first.
1. Users disabling autoplay.
Video exploded on Facebook because the platform began automatically playing them with the sound off. It was a tricky, and brilliant, way to draw people into videos they might not otherwise click to play. But streaming videos can eat up a lot of expensive bandwidth on a mobile phone, where the majority of Facebook users are. In addition, people might just find them annoying.
That hasn’t stopped Facebook’s users from watching four billion videos a day. But complaints have bubbled up. Mashable, CNET, Yahoo, Time, CNN Money, Laptop magazine, Lifehacker, and InformationWeek have all published articles showing users how to turn off the feature. Business Insider wrote no less than three articles on the topic, even including a “how to” video that plays automatically itself.
Facebook Product Director Adam Mosseri says that “a very small percentage” of Facebook’s users have disabled the function, noting that Facebook tries to minimize the amount of data that’s used. “If the Internet connection is too slow, we don’t fetch the autoplay,” he says.
Facebook’s party line – repeated every time anyone complaints about its News Feed algorithm – is that every product change it makes is based on what its users want, not what its executives or advertisers want. By that rationale, if enough users disable the feature, the company would have to turn it off. Most observers are skeptical that Facebook would make such a move, since it would deal a blow to the vanity metric of four billion video views a day and hurt Facebook’s video advertising income.
Worth noting: When Facebook launched Facebook Lite, a data efficient version of its app, it didn’t make it available in the U.S.
2. Facebook’s copyright tools need to catch up to its rapid growth.
At Facebook’s F8 developer conference in March, Facebook introduced the ability to embed videos across the Web, similar to those on YouTube. It was a big step for Facebook’s native video player to compete with the video behemoth for professional video content. But it still must catch up to YouTube with its tools for video creators. The question of tools, especially ones to identify copyright infringements, came up immediately during a Q&A session at F8. It also came up repeatedly when I spoke with publishers reporting a recent feature story on Facebook video.
Then it came up in real-life last week, when I saw an example of the problem in my Facebook feed. A Facebook user called Rock-Solid uploaded this clip from the Daily Show to his page and it went viral, getting 23 million views. The Daily Show’s own version, posted hours later, had less than 2 million views.
Rock-Solid won’t make money on the video, but it dilutes the potential for the Daily Show to make money on it, and it points to a big problem for Facebook: It’s too easy for anyone to steal someone’s video and upload it as their own.
Early on, YouTube realized that professional video creators would be its bread-and-butter, whether they were homegrown YouTube stars or publishers like Vice and BuzzFeed. Facebook has just begun to court these people, offering them a built-in audience and, as of last week, a way to make money. (Facebook’s algorithm even favors videos over photos and text updates for users with more than a million fans.) Now it needs to get creators comfortable that their videos won’t be ripped off.
Update: A Facebook spokesperson said the company currently uses a tech solution called Audible Magic to help prevent unauthorized video content. Facebook also has tools which allow content owners to report potential copyright infringement, and the company removes unauthorized content. The spokesperson further noted that Facebook is “actively exploring further solutions” to help copyright owners and expects “to have more to share this summer.”
(Fortune recently outlined the company’s efforts in a feature story. Read it here.)
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